Can you tell us a bit about the plot of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning?
I play Arthur Seaton, who is a 21-year-old womanizer, who works his ass off all week to buy beer and clothes. Basically the main plot involves him knocking off a married woman, who is having an affair with him. He has a little dabble with a couple of other married women, as he doesn’t believe in love. Towards the end of the play he meets the love of his life and becomes a changed man. He goes on quite a journey really and becomes more grown up.
How are rehearsals currently going?
We have just tried getting into costumes, which are beautiful tailor-made suits. We are two weeks into rehearsal, and it’s going brilliantly well. I’d heard so much about the director Matthew Dunster and he’s amazing. There are a lot of lines to learn, but it is an absolutely amazing opportunity for me.
What is it about the role Arthur Seaton that you are drawn to as an actor?
It’s really fun playing a bad guy. I always wanted to be a Bond baddy, so this is the closest I have been, as Arthur gets all the women and gets into a lot of fights. He’s got so many different levels. He’s caring and he loves his family. He literally wants all the work so he can have money at weekends to buy things, like sweets for his cousin. But he seems to have this side to him. He doesn’t like being told what to do and he has this rebellious side. He goes through all the levels of emotion.
How does the Royal Exchange as a venue fit the tone of the piece?
The round frees it up. I have a lot of speeches to deliver to the audience. It’s a very intimate space, and the audience are so close that I can talk directly to them, bring them in and set the story. It’s brilliant that the audience are there, as opposed to the actor just seeing a few rows. It’s nerve-wracking, but very exciting. I’ve done promenade theatre before, so I am used to the audience being close to me, but in this case I am on stage all the time so it’s the others who have to worry about going out of door seven. I can just stay and wait for them to come to me. The space does make the play feel more real.
Why do you think people should come and see this show?
I just think it’s a brilliant story. It’s incredibly interesting. With Arthur, you love him but you hate him. There is the need to see this guy and go through the changes with him. You just want to watch and see what happens, and there are meaningful and emotional scenes. It is a well-written book by Alan Sillitoe anyway, and it’s not told all that often. Most people refer to the film, and it has been done a few times on the stage.
What’s it like working with director Matthew Dunster, who has already been a part of the Royal Exchange success story, with hit productions such as Mogadishu and 1984?
He’s just brill and is a really good leader. We all feel really confident with him, and we can put all our trust into him. He had our respect from day one. He knows what he wants and he knows how to get it. He involves us in everything and he will ask us questions and genuinely wants to know answers. We go through a learning process together. He has the vision and knows exactly what he wants. I have never worked in theatres in the round before, and he has. He knows the space and makes sure that the audience are seeing the performance at all times. On a personal level as well, we all love him.
You’re probably best known for your time on the television series This Is England ‘86. Is theatre something you would like to get more heavily involved in and if so why?
Yes, I do love the theatre. It’s a different sort of acting, harder work, and a lot more full on. It is the fact that you are doing it every day, and that you have to keep it fresh that is the challenge. It is what acting should feel like – like we are entertainers. TV and film can get a bit monotonous. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it is something completely different. It has been seven years since I have done theatre, as I got onto a bit of a roll with TV. I love Shakespeare. I have done Midsummer Night’s Dream and Measure for Measure before, so I would like to do those on a bigger scale. I just love acting, and I love entertaining people, and being able to tell a story. I want to be able to challenge myself.
What are your plans following this production?
To head out into the world of acting, and try and get some more work. This is the first time I have been on a poster, so it is all very surreal. I am hoping something comes of this, and that this will show I can play leads and handle a big part. Things have just started happening for me, and so I am buzzing and just rolling with it.
Perry Fitzpatrick was speaking to Rebecca Cohen.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester from 1 March - 7 April.